“Plant-based food manufacturers need more sustainable and cost-efficient production processes”

Amid a huge rise in demand for plant-based products, with figures showing that the market for fish and meat alternatives is expected to grow by more than 10 per cent CAGR over the next five years, German firm BENEO is strengthening its presence in  plant-based texturising solutions for meat and fish alternatives. During a detailed interaction with nuFFooDS Spectrum, Christian Philippsen, Managing Director, BENEO Asia-Pacific speaks at length about the company’s growth plans in the plant-based ingredients space. Edited excerpts;

According to your 2022 survey, flexitarians are driving plant-based food segments. What are your views on the key trends in plant-based food products in India and globally?

Recent findings from our latest consumer survey show that the plant-based industry is moving from niche to mainstream. The rise in demand for plant-based alternatives is not just due to the growing number of vegans and vegetarians, but rather the vast number of flexitarians (those who have a primarily vegetarian diet but occasionally eat meat or fish)  seeking healthier lifestyles and more sustainable food options. In fact, one in four consumers globally identify as flexitarians, according to our research. Our survey found that many flexitarians value the idea of transparency when it comes to food ingredients, and that many are interested in having a better understanding and idea of where their food comes from, the quality of their food, as well as the traceability of the ingredients. 

In addition, many of them are opting for more plant-based alternatives due to health reasons and food trends. Our recent study showed that 7 in 10 flexitarians pay careful attention to on-pack information and nutritional claims when shopping compared to 5 in 10 of the general public. We also found that half of them  enjoy keeping up to date with the latest food trends, creating exciting product development opportunities for producers who can meet their demand for more adventurous foods across a range of applications and cuisines. 

When it comes to Indian consumers in particular, a survey from FMCG Gurus shows that the top two reasons for choosing meat replacements are because it is better for the environment (89 per cent) and because they are healthier (88 per cent). 

This is also backed up by BENEO’s recent survey results which show that globally, 81 per cent of flexitarians agree that meat alternatives should be tender and easy to chew. Also, 73 per cent of flexitarian consumers find it (very) important that dairy alternatives have a similar full-bodied mouthfeel like products containing dairy.

Thus, many food manufacturers are currently focused on creating more plant-based options that allow individuals to meet their nutritional requirements without having to compromise on taste and texture. Moreover, variety is an important factor to drive consumer interest in plant-based products, with 45 per cent of flexitarians saying that more variety would encourage them to buy more meat and fish alternatives in the future. As a result, manufacturers who tap into more adventurous foods across a range of applications and different cuisines will be better equipped to cater to the flexitarian consumer group. 

How is BENEO exploring the growing popularity of plant-based alternatives? 

With taste being such an important buying parameter for consumers, improving the sensory properties of plant-based proteins, steadily became a crucial factor. Still, a notable 28 per cent of Asian consumers believe plant-based foods and drinks taste bland and boring, which had a limiting effect on the appeal of plant-based proteins. The good news is that recent progress and efforts into new product developments have ensured that manufacturers, and subsequently consumers, have greater access to high-quality plant-based options that deliver both taste and texture.

In fact, manufacturers can turn to ingredients like BENEO’s BeneoPro W-Tex textured wheat protein range as a meat alternative. 

Lately, we’ve also observed many plant-based protein ingredients growing in popularity. Pulses such as fava beans (broad beans) are rising star ingredients, with product launches seeing a 20 per cent CAGR increase from 2016 to 2021.  We recently started exploring the potential for processing fava beans ingredients with promising results, leading to the company announcing a €50 million investment (roughly Rs 4 billion) in a new pulse processing site in Offstein, Germany. The plant will produce protein-rich pulse ingredients, initially focusing on protein concentrate, starch rich flour and hulls from fava beans.

Fava beans protein concentrate is a vegetable protein that in certain applications can replace animal protein (milk, egg) as well as soya proteins. Apart from having an excellent amino acids profile, it has shown high solubility and very good emulsifying properties. In addition, fava beans ingredients contribute to our sustainability goals along the entire supply chain, as pulses help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions at farm level. 

Apart from plant-based proteins, our range of rice ingredients also helps manufacturers develop dairy alternatives and plant-based confectionery. 

What are your future plans in the plant-based food segment in India and globally?

Sustainable plant-based protein is a key element of our strategy. Hence, we are constantly monitoring and researching new ingredients and products that are plant-based and can be sustainably produced, while catering to the growing demands for plant-based nutrition.

We also recently unveiled some new investments and corporate acquisitions that reaffirm BENEO’s commitment to the plant-based food segment by further expanding our portfolio of plant-based solutions.

As mentioned earlier, we announced a €50 million investment in a new pulse processing site in Germany, which will produce protein-rich pulse ingredients for food and animal feed. 

Just last month, we also announced our acquisition of Meatless B.V., a supplier of textured plant-based ingredients with a unique range of solutions derived from different raw materials. This move will allow us to broaden our portfolio and offer manufacturers a versatile selection of plant-based solutions that serve as texturisers for meat and fish alternatives. We see great prospects for the new range of solutions in Europe as a focus market in the first instance, with plans to further expand globally. 

What are the current challenges facing the plant-based food sector in terms of protein production? How is BENEO addressing those challenges?

Some common challenges faced by manufacturers include the need for more sustainable and cost-efficient production processes, as well as greater endurability against harsh processing conditions and ease of implementation into existing product catalogues.

BENEO’s range of plant-based solutions aim to address these challenges and smoothen production for manufacturers. For example, our BeneoPro W-Tex textured wheat protein ingredient is freeze and thaw stable, making it ideal for use even in challenging processing conditions, such as frozen vegan ready meals, in replacement of minced meat. BENEO’s textured wheat protein also takes only 5 to 15 minutes to hydrate, eradicating the need for long soaking and making it convenient for production.

Moreover, with regard to our recent acquisition of Meatless, the Dutch company’s products are sustainable by design. The production processes achieve a very low carbon footprint, further supporting our  aim to use state-of-the-art production facilities to reduce total CO2 emissions.

Mansi Jamsudkar


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